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I don't know anything about violins. No, actually, I don't know anything about music, so this is rather basic:

Despite it looking terribly hard, I decided to learn to play the violin nonetheless. I went to a shop and someone told me

it seems you could use a 4/4 one, which currently we're lacking. However, we do have smaller ones that have the same sound and can play the same notes, they're just smaller

Whatever, I left the place in search for a 4/4 somewhere else. But what I was told got me thinking:

Are there different types of violins (perhaps, in size) that can only play certain pieces while others can different ones?

The reason I ask is because something similar happened to me with a digital piano. The case with the piano was rather obvious: it lacked some keys, so clearly there were pieces I couldn't play with it. Now then, this doesn't seem as obvious with violins.

Bonus: that man told me that they had smaller ones that had the same sounds etc. Is that really right? I find it hard to believe that a smaller violin can play the same things as a bigger one.

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No. But full-size violins are for adults, and smaller violins are for children who have not yet grown to the size that they can play a full-size violin. All fully-grown people should play a full-size, 4/4 violin. The violin is a small instrument to begin with: the full-sized violin is the only violin that any full-grown person with normally-functioning hands should play. –  Wheat Williams Jan 28 at 17:29

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The man at the store is right: the smaller violin can play all the same notes as the larger violin. The difference is that the smaller violin won't be as loud and it will be better suited for smaller hands and fingers—if you are a normal-sized adult, you'll find a smaller violin to be more challenging to play simply because your hands will be too large for it.

This is different than the situation you encountered with the digital pianos because a piano with fewer keys offers the player access to fewer notes. By contrast, so long as a violin has four strings tuned E, A, D, and G, it can play all the notes any other violin can play, no matter its size.

As for whether they "have the same sound", well, no two violins have exactly the same sound, even if they're the same size. After all, they're made out of natural materials, and their sound depends on the qualities of those materials. That's why you should play—or have someone else play—several different violins to see which has the sound you like best before deciding which one to purchase.

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How loud is a 4/4? –  Omega Dec 23 '12 at 0:14
2  
@Omega I'm not really sure how to answer that. Pretty loud, I guess? Not as loud as a trumpet being played loudly, or an electric guitar plugged into a stadium-sized PA, but louder than a kazoo or a triangle. Seriously, my best advice is to go to the store and have someone play a variety of instruments so that you can hear the differences for yourself. –  Alex Basson Dec 23 '12 at 0:24
    
Thanks. I'll do that :) –  Omega Dec 23 '12 at 0:25

If you're an adult, you would be more comfortable with a full sized violin. If you are a small adult, you might be more comfortable with a 3/4 size violin. If you are a child, you will grow into a full size violin.

Regardless, my advice is to rent one now (from Shar online or in a local shop), and put $100 a month aside for 2 years. Once you've saved up $2000 you can start looking around for a good violin. Get something hand made, German if you can find one for that price.

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This is really just about the physical size of the instrument - children commonly learn using smaller instruments (I've seen down to as small as a 1/16th!) because they have smaller arms and fingers, so it would be much more uncomfortable, and sometimes even impossible, to play the full sized version. Weight comes into play for the same reason.

Yes, there are obviously differences in acoustic characteristics that go with a smaller instrument, but aside from that the physical size is the only difference. Same number of strings at the same pitch, etc. (though obviously different sized strings are needed for a smaller instrument.)

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The smaller violin should play all the notes as the 4/4 (or full size) (as someone mentioned). The 4/4 violin is a standard sized for a normal sized adult and many older children. I've been playing a 4/4 violin since I was 11. Many smaller violins usually lack resonance power (as someone mentioned). Their sound is best described as being trapped in box or tinny. It is kind of weird that a store is out of full sized violins, but then again I just shop at string only places.

If you look at some videos on youtube on child prodigies using small violins, you can tell (since their good violinists) that sound quality is most likely due to their violins.

http://youtu.be/GrMwMQt7MXM
(This is an adult playing a small violin)

The main takeaway is that if you are a normal sized adult (or older kid), then hold out for the full sized violin. Welcome to the 'string' side, I wish you much luck and fun on the violin.

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The key elements you lose with a smaller string instrument are tone and resonance. You can play all the same notes, but they will not sound the same as you have a shorter string length and a smaller resonant cavity.

So for a 4 year old you will want a small violin - they will be able to use it despite having small arms and fingers - but as they grow you will want to go to a full size violin.

The difference between a violin and a viola will give you some indication of the difference in tonality.

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